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henri jayer – the last hurrah?


Auction catalogue screenshot 12 April 2018

On June 17 2018, there will be an auction of burgundy wines that has very little (recent) equal. It will take place in Geneva under the auspices of Baghera Wines.

Whilst incredulous of a number of lots in this auction house’s first couple of auctions – how could they possibly be legitimate? – the catalogues were certainly sumptuous, fabulous things – keepsakes. The auction in June has, however, a provenance that seems irrefutable:

“855 bottles and 209 magnums! That’s how many bottles there were in Domaine Henri Jayer’s cellar. A handful of people knew of the treasures that were lying dormant at the Domaine, even though many bottles had been opened and shared these past few years. The anecdote about one last Richebourg 1959 opened by the family last Christmas shows how much Henri Jayer’s descendants enjoy tasting their father and grandfather’s wine.”
Baghera Wines

Whilst I like Burgundy Report to be inclusive, indeed egalitarian, sometimes you cannot escape from the rarest of the rare – and today that’s unquestionably Henri Jayer. Domaines Romanée-Conti and Leroy command similar prices, but their supplies are replenished with a new vintage each year – but for the wines of Henri Jayer that’s not the case – and it’s no joke that more wines bearing his label have already been drunk, than he ever produced – and yet ever-more come to the market.

Henri, born in 1922, died in 2006. I never met him, though I have (allegedly) had his wine in my glass twice – once it was an awful, bretty abomination and probably not genuine, the other time it hinted at the sublime and was maybe genuine – both were villages wines of the 1980s, drunk in the early 2000s.

Jayer was the vigneron(ne)s’ vigneron, working his vines for upwards of 60 years and his influence on the region is as strong as that from today’s benchmarks like the aforementioned Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leroy – but he took a different path – decrying the use of whole clusters, choosing to destem all his grapes. Even when faced with great wines made with their stems, he remained resolute in his conviction. His wines remain highly sought-after, the problem is that his labels are also the most falsified and fabricated that you could imagine.

History is sometimes told with rose-tinted spectacles; it is said that Jayer was one of the first to reject fertilisers and reduce yields, but he began cultivation in the war years – there were no chemicals available so yields were inevitably low, though it’s true that, later, he never resorted to chemistry even when could – he used only his hands and his horse for his hard labour. And much hard labour was indeed required for his most famous of crus – Vosne-Romanée 1er Cros Parentoux – so small at 1.01 hectares that it is completely ignored in René Engel’s book Vosne-Romanée despite its position on the border of Richebourg and Petits Monts. When Jayer began his work, the whole of this unplanted plot was owned by Madame Noirot-Camuzet. Rented by Jayer, planting, dynamiting and even growing vegetables in the plot, he became not just the largest owner, after the family sold him 0.72 hectares in 1957, he continued to farm the vines retained by the Camuzet family. So Cros Parentoux, for so long bottled only as a villages wine, became for a time his monopole – though it was only in in 1978, that Jayer marketed Cros Parentoux for the first time under his own label.

In 1995, having officially retired, Jayer passed the management of 0.43 hectares of Cros to his nephew, Emmanuel Rouget, but he retained the balance of these vines as he ‘hobby vinified’ until the end of 2001 – from 2002 all of his vines were entrusted to Rouget.

The ‘Cros’ is by a long way the most populous wine in this sale and whilst, at first, it’s amazing that so many bottles remained at the domaine, given my recent experience of moving 800 bottles of my own wine, such a number can fit in a relatively small space, indeed could almost be lost in a, once, functioning cuverie. Once more the catalogue is a wonderful thing and full of detail – where else will you learn and see pictures of Jayer with his trusty horse Pilote and read the commentaries of Aubert de Villaine and Emmanuel Rouget?

We might not be able to afford such bottles, but we can always learn from them

[EDIT]: Here’s the PressRelease-Bagherawines-ENG-20180417

One response to “henri jayer – the last hurrah?”

  1. Richard Heilman

    I had the great pleasure of meeting Henri at his home and tasting with him twice in the mid 80’s. Such a great winemaker and wonderful, humble person. I had put together a couple of mixed cases of his wines from the ’78-85 vintages (no Richebourg, though) before the prices became insane and traded them as partial payment to the caterer at our wedding reception in 1989. Oh, the pain of thinking about that now! The last bottle (and probably THE last) I drank of his was several years ago and it was his 1982 Bourgogne – it was an incredible wine with beautiful depth, complexity, and balance and better than many Grand Cru’s from other winemakers. Thanks for this article – it certainly brings back a lot of memories of how special his wines were and are.

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